partner, enterprise architecture, IBM Business Consulting Services

Is your role as CIO evolving towards that of a business strategy leader? If so, you should be putting an unrelenting focus on building the right relationships within the organization and educating your colleagues as to what the competition is doing, and how IT can help your company “get in the game”.

That was the message delivered by Sav DiPasquale, VP IT and CIO of pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline Inc. Canada, at a recent Frankly Speaking breakfast in Toronto, hosted by CIO Canada.

In a session that featured great audience interaction, DiPasquale spoke passionately about what it takes to be a strategy leader. “Your first priority is to get yourself or your best people at the table of your business lines,” he said. “IT has to be there. That’s the battle you have to fight. I’m on every major project board, shoulder to shoulder with the business. I go to project meetings even when I’m not invited.” The time is now right for CIOs to step into a leadership role.Graham Patterson>Text DiPasquale asserted that CIOs must go to whatever length is necessary to get their message across. “We’ll meet with people any time, anywhere,” he said. “People have to eat. We had one of our best meetings ever over lunch with a senior sales exec, whereas before we couldn’t get on the agenda. They had too many big fish to fry.”

Graham Patterson, Partner, Enterprise Architecture, with event sponsor IBM Business Consulting Services, reinforced the message, “The time is now right for CIOs to step into a leadership role,” he said. “You’ve got to align the personalities. As a senior strategist, that’s one of the functions a CIO can perform.”

Patterson added that the CIO “should be looking at how IT can contribute to sustainable growth.” He cited IBM’s Global CEO Study 2004, in which over 450 CEOs from all major industries ranked innovation-driven revenue growth as their top priority. The CEOs also identified organizational responsiveness, agility and flexibility as necessary competencies – all areas in which the CIO can deliver significant strategic value.

While DiPasquale acknowledged that CIOs have a key role to play in business strategy, he advised a cautious approach. “First you’ve got to show that IT is competitive and costs aren’t going up,” he said.

DiPasquale has already walked the talk at GlaxoSmithKline. Four years ago the company was getting a return of one dollar for every four dollars invested in IT. Today the return is two dollars for every dollar invested in IT.

Of course it’s not always possible to realize a return on IT investment. “Sometimes occasions arise when things need to be done for competitive reasons, without ROI,” conceded DiPasquale. “In these cases you can’t go out on a limb. You need a champion in the business to say, Okay, we need that.”

Both DiPasquale and Patterson admitted that IT has some negative history to overcome in order to take its place at the strategy table. Using IT as a key enabler of the business is like “climbing Mount Everest with a Sherpa guide,” said DiPasquale. “We’re the guide. Sometimes there are casualties.”

“If you’re trying to solve some of the past problems of IT, focus on change management,” advised Patterson. “This is an area that’s been so poor in many companies. There’s been little or no focus on it.”

Related links:

The four “Ps” of marketing IT

What is relationship management?

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